Forensic Odontologist: Definition, Responsibilities & Salary

This article explores the work of dental specialists that are known as forensic odontologists. This article looks at the training requirements and skills needed for this profession, as well as the salary forensic odontologists receive.

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Career Definition of a Forensic Odontologist

Highly trained dental specialists who participate in criminal investigations are called forensic odontologists. They help identify the source of dental evidence. This can involve making molds of teeth impressions so that they can identify who left those marks. In their role they may also extract saliva that can be used as evidence or to provide DNA. In some cases they may be required to attend autopsies when conventional identification methods are not feasible. In these cases they may be responsible for taking X-rays and creating a detailed report on the person's teeth. This can involve measuring teeth size and identifying dental implants or dental work that has been done.

Forensic odontologists may also be involved with other types of criminal investigations. They may perform examinations to identify injuries that a person has received as the result of abuse or assault. They may also play a role in identifying the victims of disasters or terrorist attacks. Forensic odontologists may be required to testify in court. As part of their duties they also photograph teeth and relevant evidence, such as bite marks.

Educational Requirements Doctoral degree, residency, license
Job Skills Attention to detail, organizational skills, investigative skills, communication skills, objectivity, fine motor skills, problem-solving skills, strong stomach, photography skills
Median Salary (2016)* $173,000 (dentists, all other specialists)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 12% (dentists, all other specialists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

There are many steps involved in becoming a forensic odontologist. Forensic odontologists must attend dental school and earn a doctoral degree. They need practical experience, which can be gained through completing a residency in forensic odontology. With the required experience they can earn an American Board of Forensic Odontology certification.

Required Skills

It is important for forensic odontologists to pay attention to details because it is crucial that they take exact measurements and have the proper information to identify bodies from dental records. They also need to be thorough so that they locate all relevant evidence, such as DNA that may be left in a bite mark. Communication skills are important to effectively explain their work and how they reached their conclusions in court in a way that the jury can understand. They need to be objective to make scientifically based conclusions. Since they often work on difficult cases involving mass casualties or decomposed bodies they need to have a strong stomach and the ability to stay focused on their work in difficult work environments. Investigative skills are important in their work since they are searching for answers.

Career Outlook and Salary

The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies for forensic odontologists in the category 'dental specialists, all other'. According to the BLS, as of 2016 dentists in that category earned a median annual salary of $173,000. During the ten-year period from 2016 to 2026 they are expected to see jobs increase by 12%. This is notably higher than the average rate of job growth for all occupations the BLS expects during the same ten-year period, which is 7%.

Related Careers

If a career as a forensic odontologist sounds appealing then you may also be interested in other dental specialties, such as orthodontia and oral surgery, but if you're more interested in forensics you may want to consider being a coroner or a wildlife forensic scientist. You can learn more about these different career options through the articles linked to here.

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